How to Decrease Entitlement: Combine Rights and Responsibilities
About a month ago, we posted an article on this blog page about how empowered today’s students are—possessing the ability to post content without the need to go through any authorities; to learn information without the need of an accompanying teacher or parent. You get the idea.
One insightful reply to the article came from Cheryl Buford. She wrote:
I appreciate the points that Tim makes in this blog post. There are definitely many ways that Gen Z can take action without the mediation of their parents (i.e. recording music, self-publishing a book, etc.). At the same time, I’ve observed what seems to me to be an unhealthy sense of entitlement by many in this generation that their parents should support them financially – even though they want secrecy around their personal lives. Institutions encourage this as well. For example, in our community, children can get their own library card. At the age of 13, the library asserts that they have a right to privacy and librarians aren’t allowed to tell parents what books their children have checked out. Yet, if the book gets lost or is turned in late, who is responsible for paying the fine? The parents are, of course. Obviously, families can navigate this and other scenarios with their own rules and expectations. It just makes it harder when our culture and our public institutions promote the idea that students have a right to their independence and privacy, but parents have a responsibility to continue supporting them financially — no matter what.
Our Challenge in Today’s Society
Today, we live in a unique period of time where we’ve taught our kids to advocate for their rights (which is a good thing), but we’ve done so without combining it with equal responsibilities. By this I mean, we’ve often neglected to teach that all rights come with corresponding responsibilities. In Cheryl’s illustration above, a young teen can acquire a library card—but misusing that card penalizes the parents, not the teen, who enjoys the right. This leads to an imbalanced worldview and sends them off to college with a sense of entitlement that professors must help them navigate.
We must find ways to help them succeed without violating how life works. Society has equations at work; benefits and consequences to our actions. We must find age appropriate methods to enable them to see how these equations work:
- A misused library card that penalizes the parent isn’t the best method. The child enjoys the right to privacy without the responsibility for that privacy. I believe this is unhealthy for an adolescent whose brain is still developing.
- A school that prevents teachers from giving poor grades for poor work isn’t helpful. A Florida teacher was recently fired for refusing to give a 50% grade to students who turned in no assignment. It’s a right without responsibility.
- A teen whose parents purchase them a car, then pay for all expenses (a marvelous right for any teen) without an accompanying responsibility of purchasing gas or insurance. Kids gain a wrong preview of life and adulthood.
Rights Must Always Include Accompanying Responsibilities
My big idea here is not to refuse students grace or mercy or second chances when they make mistakes. Adults can always offer such grace in particular situations. What I am saying is—we must prepare young adults for a world that has both rights and responsibilities. I often see high school or college students being fed a diet of “rights” without any mention of duties. One college instructor told me a student demanded a good grade in his class because his parents “paid the tuition.” This is a misconstrued perspective on rights and responsibilities. So, consider these suggestions:
1. Whenever you create a new rule, be sure you communicate both the right and the responsibility for that rule.
2. Whenever students (or your own kids) demand a “right” determine what the accompanying responsibility should be before you give it to them.
3. Teach students that rights are earned through trust. If parents pay for their child’s phone, they have a right to look at their social media account. Over time, the child may earn the right to privacy by trustworthy actions.
4. Consistently communicate how healthy lifestyles operate:
- When a teen turns 18, they can enlist to serve in the military, but they also gain the right to vote for their chief executive officer.
- When a person only rents an apartment, they’re not responsible for the grounds maintenance; when they buy a home, they are. They own it.
- When a person earns an income, they are responsible to pay taxes on it. Without a job, there’s no responsibility to pay income taxes.
Everything is a “trade off.” That’s how life works. That’s how choices work. When we provide a life with only one of the two (rights or responsibilities without the other) we do a disservice to our young adults. Rights and responsibilities are navigated best through trusting relationships between the student and adult.